After September 11, 2001 when former Gov. Tom Ridge resigned to become the nation's head of homeland security, a constitutional dust-up occurred. Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became governor and, by operation of the Constitution, Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer, R-Blair, became lieutenant governor.
There was just one problem: The situation resulted in Jubelirer serving in both the executive and legislative branches of government at the same time. A court case ensued in which some sought to require Jubelirer to relinquish his Senate seat in order to serve as lieutenant governor.
The PA Supreme Court, however, ruled that the Constitution did allow Jubelirer to serve in both offices. Article IV, Section 14 expressly provides that the Senate seat of the president pro tempore must become vacant if he or she becomes governor, but it does not include the same requirement upon becoming lieutenant governor. Complicating matters further is that the Constitution has no provision for replacing a lieutenant governor prior to the end of the term to which he or she was elected.
In 2002, the stakes were not particularly high. There were just a few months remaining in the second term of the Ridge Administration, and the governor's office and Senate majority both were held by Republicans. But a consensus affirmed that there was a glitch to fix in the Constitution.
Fast Forward Six Years. The problem still exists (see "The Black Hole Claims Another Victim," below). And now it may be too late to solve it for what may be the next vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor.
Sadly, Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll is undergoing treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for neuroendocrine cancer. While everyone hopes for a full recovery that allows her to resume her official duties, it is entirely possible that she may have to resign before the end of her term in January of 2011.
In that case, the political dynamic becomes complicated. It's one thing for a senator to serve as both president pro tempore and lieutenant governor for a few months with a governor of the same party. It's something else for it to last for perhaps years with a governor of the opposite party.
Then there's the complication if, for some reason, Gov. Ed Rendell also does not complete his term. As matters stand today, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, a Republican, would become governor.
The Black Hole Claims Another Victim. Given that possibility, you would think that Senate Republicans would be content with our Constitution's ambiguity and silence. To the contrary, and to their credit, Sen. Jake Corman and eight other Republicans introduced Senate Bill 822 . It would amend the Constitution to allow the governor to appoint a new lieutenant governor with the consent of a simple majority in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate after defeating a Democratic proposal to require a two-thirds majority.
Then it went to the black hole of efforts to improve state government: the House State Government Committee. It arrived there on April 15 this year and has seen no action since.
Had the General Assembly acted in 2002 to amend the Constitution, an amendment could have been on the ballot for voter approval or rejection in 2003. Or it could have been on the ballot in 2005 or 2006 or 2007 or 2008.
And if the House State Government Committee had acted this year, the amendment could have been on the ballot next year, a full year before the end of the Rendell Administration. Failing to act this year means that the amendment can't be on the ballot before 2011.
Saved by a Lame Duck? The majority House Democrats' decision to return to session after the election (the infamous and unethical "lame-duck" session) may allow them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Although the Senate properly has pledged not to hold lame-duck session, the House could pass without amendment anything that the Senate already passed, including SB 822.
While they're at it, they could resurrect other Senate-passed bills that were vortexed in the House State Government and Appropriations committees. Among them are:
- SB 729, requiring local and state agencies to publish employee salaries on their web sites. Senate passage 49-0 in May 2007.
- SB 468, amending the Constitution to prohibit lame-duck session (ironically enough). Senate passage 41-8 in June 2007.
- SB 986, prohibiting state agencies from paying bonuses to employees. Senate passage 48-0 in October 2007.
The critical difference between these bills and SB 822 is the consequence of delay. Failure to act on these bills is a setback for a few months. Failure to act on SB 822 will cost another three years before citizens can vote to amend their Constitution.
- What's on the House agenda when it returns after the election?
- Will reformers drop their objections to lame-duck session if some or all of this legislation passes?
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